Sunday, 13 September 2009

lost in the garden

this last week i have been cutting the hay around my house in an effort to find the garden i was pretty sure had been there last summer

i began on hands and knees using a small Japanese rice cutter acquired in Yamaguchi a while back
it's a good tool, easily sharpened on whatever stone is handy

after a few days of this prayerful attitude it became clear i would have to call in the Big Guns
resort to using the Viper Sniper

what's a Viper Sniper? i hear you mutter. some folks call 'em strimmers. in Australia they rose to popularity as Whipper Snippers

my friend Karoly Szabo called them Viper Snipers. they are a tool of last resort - i prefer quiet and stillness punctuated by birdcall when pottering about in the green - but thanks to his well-chosen epithet they remind me of him.

i first met him when i was twelve years old. at the time i made a habit of cloaking myself in an enormous black woollen cape no matter what the occasion. this may account for the conspicuous lack of invitations to birthday parties and other conventional pre-teen amusements of the time

i also had an interest in plants. this made me doubly weird as far as my schoolmates were concerned
and which explains why i was tagging along with my parents on a Saturday morning plant-foraging excursion. we were newcomers to the district back then. the Greenwitch nursery was the "campfire" around which local gardeners would meet. it was the domain of Karoly Szabo - known by all and sundry as 'Charlie'.
he'd created his green paradise having been displaced from his native Hungary by the Second World War and specialized in small growing alpine region plants

i recall the moment of our meeting vividly.
Charlie, a diminutive but sturdy figure adorned with an impressive black moustache and a mane of matching hair [wearing a large Siamese cat draped around his neck]
understood my sartorial splendour immediately.
as we walked into his garden he looked up and with a beaming smile that outshone Tony Curtis' efforts in "The Great Race" called

'i see you are a friend! i too am from Transylvania, ze heart of Dracula country!'
[read that line with an outrageous middle European accent]

we were firm friends from that time on [and it was true, he really WAS from the heart of Dracula country]

i am indebted to Charlie as well as to David Thomson [who ran a rare plant nursery at Summertown] and Bob Blows [who ran a specialist Rhododendron nursery in the Sturt Valley] for teaching me so much about the botanical world

the usual things happened, i grew up, wandered off

years later, wandering down the main street of Mount Pleasant with infants in tow i noticed a familiar figure pushing a wheelbarrow about on the hitherto vacant allotment next to the Post Office. it was Charlie.
he was relocating from the cloudy climes of Stirling to the rather drier region on the eastern slopes of the Mount Lofty Ranges. years of dedicated tobacco consumption had taken their toll on his lungs and the resulting emphysema seemed easier to endure here

he still sported his luxuriant thatch and whiskers but they had become somewhat snow-streaked since i had seen him last.

the Siamese had long departed this whirled and he was now attended by an elderly black cat. Gypsy was a little deaf and had only a few teeth, most notably two spectacular canines that conjured memories of my flapping garment
she was Charlie's reason for lighting the gas fire in winter and helped him make his way through tubs of ice-cream in summer

we fell into the habit of taking Turkish coffee together on a Tuesday morning. Charlie's friend [and former employee at the GreenWitch] Jacqui would do the honours. she came twice a week to share coffee and bring him pots of goulash along with other middle-European delicacies that she'd learned to cook during a friendship that encompassed nearly half a century.

Charlie died on June 26, 2002 when something went amiss in his body and sent the car he was driving into the arms of a waiting tree. the wild tulips blooming in the picture below were a gift from him.

his ungrateful god-daughters inherited everything but couldn't even bring themselves to organise a headstone for his grave.

p.s. if you're wondering what happened to Gypsy...she pre-deceased Charlie by some six months. a week or so after Charlie's funeral i exhumed her remains [not as gruesome as it sounds, they were wrapped in one of his old shirts], took them under cover of darkness to the graveyard and reunited her with her friend.
if you're passing by, stand a while and listen'll hear her purring still.

p.p.s. if you like reading stories you might wander over to Monda's ...she spins a very fine yarn indeed.


  1. What a fabulous wonderful story-- I started off reading it with a smile at your humor which I love and then further and further into the story I got a bit more thoughtful and a little sad but you ended on just the right note-- a wonderful tribute to a life lived the way he wanted. The cat draped around his neck is exactly my taupe colored Tonkanese cat Suki-- who is often wrapped around the back of my neck. I just wish she would trim her nails more often.

  2. As I wipe away the tears I thank you for the memories of Charlie.The Anemone hepatica he gave me for my birthday survived the drought and is sprouting out yet again. Charlie, like Paddington bear, was rather fond of marmelade which Jacqui made for him in his tiny kitchen literally by the bucket load. It was always a good excuse to go to the post office so one could drop in on Charlie and see the latest wonders in his succession house and share a coffee.

  3. Rid the world of whipper snippers, I say...its good to know there are others who dislike these noisy machines. The only other noisy and polluting popular instrument that equals it are leaf-blowers.

    Lovely photos.

  4. India what a sweet thing to do for a friend. Reuniting Gypsy with Charlie ......brings a tear to my eye ....actually now both eyes.

  5. Dear India what a lovely sad story, you certainly have a wonderful way of putting any story into words. I too lost a dear friend about five years ago, he to the dreaded tobacco induced lung cancer. What a shock. At least he was given a wonder wonderful final farewell by many dear friends.

  6. stealthily reuniting the two was true love
    for a moment, i was there, with turkish coffee and goulash and green things thriving all around

  7. Oh, India. That loving story makes me silent and still.

    Thank you. And thank you.

  8. Those god-daughters didn't inherit everything. Seems like Charlie left his friends a generous legacy. It's fortunate to be lucky in friends.

  9. Here via Art Propelled
    What a wonderful tale. Good of you to reunite those two.

  10. If I kark it, just promise to hug my kids for me should ur paths ever cross.

    see, u were born to tell stories. its just in the way u experience the whirled (like that) and how u respond. ur not normal, u are slightly off the beaten track, thank God.

    i had a cape once. black velvet. it was very unfashionable. i thought i was rather mysterious. my friends thought i was creepy and odd.

    i miss u.

  11. India,
    What a beauty of a story. Woven memories over time, graceful acceptance of reality. -Jayne

  12. I can almost smell the special air that is stirling and imagine running into charlie.

    What a lovely tale, thankyou for telling it and it re confirms my decision to leave all I have to Monica's doggie rescue.